Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Your Trip to Paradise
At 3:00 a.m. on a black kettle night,
a yen for Paradise snaps you awake.
Rising, you pack ridiculous flimsy clothes -
shirts without sleeves,
pants without legs,
shoes without a hint of protection. 
You commit this crime in faith,
Commit it in passion and a kind
of boulder-hoisting desperation.
You carefully make your bed.
In case you don’t return, in case
Indiscriminate survivors blunder through
your private domain.
Bent on Paradise,
you want to leave Perdition
in an ordered state worthy of a
benevolent obituary.
Stepping through the door,
the night hits your face and
you take note: this is not a dream.
The sun, held back by fermented rain,
and the liquor of nocturnal recline,
shows no sign of appearing.
You board the metal bird in the guise
of a Boeing 747 and
close your eyes as it lifts from the sliver of earth.
You are not alone.
Through the square of layer glass, you see the beautiful creature,
the who of you, the yes of you,
the now and then and hope of you,

the transformed you after you accept
yourself as the soul you were
you were fashioned to be.
This astonishing you runs at break-neck speed.
But you are not out of breath.
Colored in twilight, your legs drum the delighted sky.
You run outside the strapped-in shell of you,
patiently waiting to make your acquaintance. 
Studying you, you gape amazed. 
You are ageless.
Empowered by engines not your own,
Endearing and enduring through weakness,.
through storms meant to grow you wings,
through sunflower gardens turned toward the moon,
rivers of ice flowing uphill to sky,
through yearning and angst all forgotten.
There you go, swift through trees hung fat with I-can-do-anything-leaves,
diving backwards, neck arching, legs stretching,
your toes pointed to God.
You are dizzy with balance, 
giddy with peace. 
Leaving a trail of shrinking lights,
you think primordial thoughts - thoughts of fire, of flood, of disarmed fate.
You are a river undamned by God. 
The current is swift, but it is not against you. 
Rejoicing and weeping,
a flock of crystal stars fly beneath you.
With wings of diamonds and bone
and feathers of colored surprise, they churn the wind for the transfiguring mill of you.    

For this excursion children alone are permitted to sit in exit rows. 
In case of a crash, only the children can open the doors. 
It has always been this way, but only is it safe to be one.

As a child, you behold yourself in a lime green shirt.
Or is it red?  Blue maybe?
You decide on a dotted Swiss dress with a yellow belt.
You remember bare hands, fingers dipping into a sugar bowl
and giving your tongue a treat.
Yes, the hands are small and the child is you.     

You look down. 
You want to know this two-legged shape attached to you and you to it.   
But it is not a completed you. 
Your body is merely a sentence that carries the noun of you,
You are a fabulous stuttering phrase carried by the ill-stated truth of you.
But it is never, not ever complete enough.

And now you remember your former bed, the warmth of it and 
how it felt to be in the arms of it, how it protested with your every turn
and how the covers were never exactly the weight you wanted them to be.

You remember God’s smothered voice, the feel of your hands against your ears. 
In the knowledge of the smallness of your hands you agree to stop apologizing,
to stop making excuses.

Yours is a story that keeps being written.
And not a story meant to be written alone.

In the story you wrote alone you stayed stuck behind a curious door,
afraid to try the handle, afraid to risk its turning.
But the nudge to do so insisted.   

All along you’ve questioned the nudge.


God himself explains the nudge.
God himself explains your hesitation.
Your fear of the nudge has to do with God.
Only God makes sense of fear. 

In Perdition there is much to overcome, to improve,
to remodel, destroy, amend, excuse,
flatter,  impress, refute.

Paradise turns fixing obsolete.
In Paradise the water brims with tears nobody needs to cry.
And the birds?
The birds derive from angels.

The clocks are clowns and time is hour free. 
The cutting wind has dropped its blade and
grown a cotton tongue, and all the words are waterfalls and
all the dots have i’s. 

The shredding cloaks of poverty transform to gleaming gowns and broken doors
are used as boats and oars are pulled by skies.
In Paradise your questions beg and answers grow like alms.
And yes and no are Simese twins and Mondays carry songs. 

In Paradise you are who you were born to be and no one thinks to drown.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

She believed her many-headed self was proof of a scattered brain. But a scattered brain was better than a frozen brain.  Most would agree.  Being scattered trumped being frozen; it was her comfort. But she often wondered how to repair herself.  For a season she hunted for glue, for a kind of epoxy that would mend the scatters.  For a while she used only some of the fragments. That season perplexed her. 
She didn’t like the cold.  She was frightened by glaciers: Enormous blue-white citadels moving towards the sea, skyscrapers of ice bent on barely discernible progress until they reach the continent’s edge and tip inelegantly into the sea.  That is what this is all about: moving from frozen to liquid and then letting go.  Letting go was not her first choice.  Her first choice was clinging.

Letting go was slow in developing.  It is still not done.  It comes in stops and starts with sometimes dark moons and missing stars.  And sometimes the sun shines so bright she wears a blister. Thank Jesus for the Sabbath, for celebrations that include candles. Fire. Fire. Fire. She struggles with limbs and appendages. She sets her sights on what she thinks she needs and lets go all over again. She's often dizzy but not so much as she was before. She is coming to love movement and understanding her need to change.
I hope you never change, they said.
But Life said, I hope you do. I hope you keep changing. I hope you never stay the same. 
You aren’t the girl we knew, they said.
She doesn't argue but in her heart she knows she wasn't who they thought she was.  

This is a season of stepping into The Push. A season of tumbling.  Grace has her flying head over heels. She accepts the spinning. Moving keeps her warm. She's made friends with Grace and admitted she can't change. Only Grace can change her and He did and He is.  She reminds herself often: Change is good. I am not afraid of change. Stuck is what to fear. Stuck prevents change.   

Friday, November 29, 2013

When a Fireball Lands in the Middle of Your Dreams

This is what happens when the fireball in the sky lands in your dream and you have to listen to its flames and have to make sense of the blazing language that climbs up on your tongue and starts it wagging. A light gets turned on. All those dark nights turn into summer and you begin to see why the shadows confused you. The fireball doesn’t have to be enormous, it just have to be hot. Given the nature of fire you know that it is. You know it can burn you but it won’t. The fire will only burn the things that aren’t needed. Things like shame or fear or regret. Things like "I wish I had not..., I should have... I missed out on...." Once the fireball lands you’ll be like those crazy people in Acts who knew about love. You’ll stop being cold, you’ll think about winter and how it won’t ever freeze you. You’ll realize how ridiculous it is to bundle up your desire. You’ll begin to yearn and stop caring about what is missing and why you can’t have it. You’ll start telling the truth and feel the fire warm you on the inside where snow used to camp. You’ll act a little crazy when the fireball lands but it will be the kind of crazy that makes sanity jealous. People will circle around just to stay warm and you won’t run out of blankets. I think the fireball was never meant to hide in the sky. I think it was meant to hide in you and me. It was meant to cause an uproar. To wake us up. To keep us hopping. To make us lie still. To undo us, to put us back together. All of this. All of that. The whole thing is ours. Its fire and its God and it is crazy and its good and now we can fan the flames and let it burn. Good morning.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

What Jonathan Edwards said is still true.

“The enjoyment of God is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied. To go to heaven, fully to enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant accommodations here. Fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, or children, or the company of earthly friends, are but shadows; but God is the substance. These are but scattered beams, but God is the sun. These are but streams. But God is the ocean.

Monday, September 2, 2013

She grew up in a hive, a vast, endeavoring conglomeration that stretched from here to there and beyond. The scope of its distance was too far to see. The wealth of effort and sacrifice and unappreciated toil encompassed not only her lifetime but lifetimes before hers – each life, comparatively short., but the lifetimes together stretched into eons. The hive surged with effort; effort of mothers, of fathers, of brothers, sisters, of husbands, of wives, of soldiers and drones. And though it was true, there was a bounty of sweetness, every day demanded more. In trying to calculate how she could escape and still remain faithful, useful, loyal and loved, she failed. She wasn’t good at math and the formula to keep her wings a flutter seemed beyond her capacity to sustain. The hive was a place where enough was never enough and she grieved at her lack. Stepping out of the hive wasn’t her idea. Indeed she would have never gone if she hadn’t been pushed. The miracle of her exit remains. She is grateful and ambivalent. The hive had clear and precise measurements. This equals that. That equals this. Outside the hive the measurements were all askew, up for grabs. What was she worth outside of the hive? Some days her life looked like honey. Some days it looked like sloth.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Some Words about Abiding & Freedom

After it was over and they could talk about their freedom they said – well it’s not like what happened could be explained in concrete terms – no, not as if we’d timed it so we were able to observe something NOT ABSTRACT like the sudden appearance of smiling dolphins or anything as laughable as that – of course not and with all the confusion caused by the red sky at the wrong time of the day – and no indication of moring or night – yes, we had no choice about the sky – all we know is grace holds up the clouds and seems to keep our pulses pulsing. They weren’t in a joking mood but a joke was hard to resist. One of them calmed the other by putting a hand on her trembling shoulder and said – I’m grateful for the impracticality of the word abide. It’s the only word that comes to mind right now – Abide? Isn’t that strange. I thought I heard that word just now myself, like a reverse injunction, a mandate of some kind – Yes, or an invitation – Abide? It’s not a word that comes up a lot – not on the radio – or the internet, but I heard it all the same – Me too, yes, abide. They sat together in silence, all stunned by the terror of freedom. One woman (top right), almost being choked by her wings. One woman (bottom middle) reclining, reluctant to make the first move. The other woman (top left) leans into freedom, ready to leap.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013


On the Hunt He has looked everywhere. He has looked to the skies, in nature, in power, in relationships, in success, in symbols and dreams and stories and song. Indeed so fervent is he in his hunting he has almost silenced that small inner voice that has been trying to tell him all along what it is he’s hunting for. C.S. Lewis was right (of course) when he said in The Weight of Glory, “Almost our whole education has been directed to silencing this shy, persistent, inner voice; almost all our modern philosphies have been devised to convince us that the good of man is to be found on this earth.........” .

Friday, August 16, 2013

I love this quote from William Carlos Williams, “It is difficult to get the news from poems yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.”

Thursday, August 15, 2013


So I’ve been in an unpredictable frame of mind lately. Disappointed in myself. Lacking gratitude. Wanting more than I already have. More of what? That’s what gets confusing. Feeling like I need what I don’t already have but what is it I don’t have? I have everything. I have love, family, health. I’m afraid of being so serious I’ll scare others away, wanting to be jovial, light-hearted, hopeful and carefree but feeling scared, controlling and unloveable. At the same time, I’m trying to write about the “thin places,” trying to explain what the term means. I’ve thought back to my time in Paris and various “thin places” I encountered there but wanting to have something more current, something in the here and now, not the “back then” and faraway. And then today I stepped out in the middle of a “thin place” and wobbled there on the brim of tears and am still echoing in astonishment. It happened like this. Last night I left Brett Lott’s new book, “Letters & Life: on being a writer, on being a Christian,” open, on its back. When Randy got up this morning, he saw it laying like that and snapped it shut, thinking he would save the book. I picked it up a short time later, I didn’t bother to try and figure out where I had been. This is very often how entering a “thin place” happens – one is often lost, disoriented or thinking they are somewhere other than they are, not even knowing they are lost but most of the time they believe they are alone. So when I flipped the book open, I was too rushed to try to figure out where I had left off, I just started reading in the middle of the page I opened. This takes a certain kind of intentional randomness that doesn’t really take you very far in corporate America, but as you will see it can take you so much further. These were the words I read: “Because writing is a very lonely thing, you do it, and do it, always alone at a desk somewhere, always just spilling words on the page, hoping they will work….” I immediately identified with these words and kept reading. Lot went on to tell the story of how he had the audacity to ask God for clear indication on a certain day that his writing was making a difference in anyone’s life. “I know I was being impudent and presumptuous, giving God a deadline. But, I reasoned, I wasn’t asking for anything big or for any prize or recognition – just word from somewhere that somehow I might be making a difference.” Lott’s request gripped me and I thought how dangerous and wonderful and tempting. I also assumed that what was about to unfold before me was a story I was also living and wanting to know the end of. For whether I was going to find out that God actually did give Lott a clear sign or whether he didn’t I was going to discover how to respond to my own impudent wants. In short order, Lott details how he went to bed empty-handed on the day he’d asked for a sign. AND YET, he somehow had this amazing “peace that passes understanding” – just like scripture promises. And so, to me, that peace was the sign and I was satisfied for a moment, already, while I continued to read, I planned on making the same request of God and seeing how He might answer me. But Lott’s story wasn’t over. The next morning when he woke up he opened an email from a stranger giving him the evidence he so badly needed the day before. The clincher? The email arrived at 11:59 PM on the very day he’d asked God to answer him. And that’s not all. Two days later Lott received a letter postmarked the same date as his request. Again, the sender gave him a second “testimony” that his work as a writer had, indeed, made a remarkable impact on her life. Lott’s two examples amaze me. Through tears, I thought, “wouldn’t that be something to know that God was so intimately involved in my life?” I sat there with the book in my hands full of yearning, borrowing hope from a man I only knew through words and as I turned the page, my eyes fell on the bold letters announcing the next chapter. Writing With So Great A Cloud of Witnesses. Lott had ¾ of a page left to make his final point and conclude the chapter, but I stopped reading. The next chapter’s title was far too jolting: I was/am speechless. I haven’t yet read the chapter. I’m still stuck on the title. And hear me on this, I had not looked ahead to see what was coming. I had no warning. I could not have predicted this “thin place.” To explain it I’ll have to back up a bit. Several weeks ago I finished the painting “The Great Cloud of Witnesses.” I just had it framed and got it on the wall last night. I painted “The Great Cloud of Witnesses” to illustrate what I couldn’t see, wasn’t feeling and wanting to believe: We are not alone. We are being upheld, applauded, encouraged and observed by a host of admirers in the heavenly realms. Brett Lott’s words ushered me into this “thin place.” I got a glimpse of God’s grace, his mystery and His lavish love as he returned me to a place that so struggles with language and how to write truthfully, artfully in order to make a difference in my life and the life of others. After painting “The Great Cloud of Witnesses,” it seemed to make perfect sense to use the painting to promote an upcoming series of writing workshops called, Bearing Witness. As far as explaining the “thin places” – this was one. A “thin place” is a hairline moment that comes on us unexpectedly when we take the risk to stop and listen, stare and wait – with no possible guarantee of what will speak or appear or be made known to our souls as we dare to give the possibilities space. P.S. Oh, by the way, this is the second time Brett Lott’s writing has taken me unawares into one of those “thin places.” The other one is too long for now. But remind me later and I’ll tell you about it.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

In The Thin Places

In the thin places Love's lunge takes you one step into the moonlight while your other leg flails in the dark. Pay attention to your tears, to your anger, to your joy. When the light permits shod your feet with the gospel of peace and go forward. If the darkness persists take off your shoes. Wait quietly for the words. Holy holy is the ground.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The In-Between

This is the edge of what is soon to be – an in-between place like a dock with sea warped boards jutting out across an eddy that might be salt water or it might be fresh. What I know is that the depths below are as descending as the sky is ascending. There is an absence of bottom here, a wedge of blue and green that laps at the air and tunnels into the undiscovered. The dock shift-shapes into a house and the tide lifts the whole of all I imagine to possess. Everything once moored finds freedom in the surf. It wasn’t supposed to last as long as it did. It was supposed to last longer. But the melting truth managed to flood the banks. The sky remains fixed. But the flood refuses bounds. I’m a good swimmer but the press of land assures my feet: I am still here. There's still enough land to sit down without sinking in. And God is here.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Disturb us, Lord, when We are too pleased with ourselves, When our dreams have come true Because we dreamed too little, When we arrived safely Because we sailed too close to the shore. Disturb us, Lord, when with the abundance of things we possess We have lost our thirst For the waters of life; Having fallen in love with life, We have ceased to dream of eternity. -Sir Frances Drake

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Great Cloud of Witnesses

Last year in Puerto Rico, author Mayra Santos-Fibros talked about the practice of setting out a meal for the dead. I was surprised at the practice and wasn't tempted to follow it, but it did bring to mind the Hebrews 12 reference of “being surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.” When I mentioned this scripture to her we found common ground between her work and mine. Since then I've been wanting to paint that unseen realm. Since we have all experienced some kind of marginalization, gross misunderstandings or heartache, I wanted the central figure to reflect internationally "eclectic" features. Remembering the "great cloud of witnesses" turns my focus to the larger life and reminds me I am not alone.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Delphiniums - Well-Structured Support

Delphiniums, those glorious petals in a gardner's crown are not easily won. When small they can be devoured in a singl evening by a snail the size of a thumbnail. If they live past infancy, they require considerable water. They must be fertilized and protected from weeds. Once mature they boast such robust blossoms, staking is required. The supports of a delphinium are nothing of which to be ashamed. In fact, the grander the bloom, the more necessary becomes a well-structured support. The density of her blues makes the delphinium unable to stand alone. The weight of such a hue can send her crestfallen into the mud. The very process of lifting a fallen bloom can cause her to snap. A delphinium will grow improperly supported. Its color will be vivid, its scent sweet, its nectar rich. But its petals will be stained with mud.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Why the Tree Grew on the Roof

What's not in the picture is Mama. But she's here just beyond the rise. The reason we know this is the shape of the tracks. They go round and round. You see, Mama doesn't like backing up. she said so herself - more than once. And just to make sure we all got it she looped the house in a dirt drive and kept down the weeds by gunning the engine of the old black rumble-seat, taking it for a spin every time her and Pops argued. Their circular rants got to be a habit. Even when Pops wasn't home she'd find herself climbing in behind the wheel and gunning the engine. Next thing she knew she'd be moving with simulated progress even though her forward momentum curved back on itself the moment it could have left the old track. Once she wearied, we'd hear her skid to a halt and yank the protesting emergency brake. Nothing grew where those tires spun and that wasfinewith all of us because we'd already ran out of hose for the plants thriving on the rest of our hill. The daily jaunts around the driveway kept her occupied and unable to stick anymore plants in the ground. Even so, you need to know Mama like we know Mama and once you hear the story about the tree she planted on the roof, you'll know Mama. The idea evolved like this - it happened on the day the old car died of old age but Mama was still young. And it was a hot day and every garden hose was occupied and the white pine she'd purchased on sale at the WalMart in the 5-gal tub was busting out its tin seams. Mama took a look at that hot roof, she knew she could toss a pot of water up there with the muscles she'd developed yanking on that brake - without the hassle of tangled hoses - so she went for it. Gota load of dirt, hauled it up a ladder, one rung at a time, and planted that pine. That's our Mama. We think she's brilliant and now you know she's brilliant too.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Words from a Button

I am a button of bone - hewn from the tibia of a dead donkey, sanded smooth between the thumb and index finger of a woman the age of time. After smoothing me she bore me through with an awl slivered from an anvil of desire. The anchor was imperative. As far as I can gather the woman lived in a world of wind, a turning world - going, spinning unhitched to solitude or contemplation. When she began her threading I was still hot from the piercing but curious about the garment to which I would be married. Would it be a bustled affair, pride-starched and florid, or would it be something hospitable and pattern-free that might give my curves a chance to be seen? The garment surprised us both. She took the skin of a dead jack ass and burnished its hide to a shine, then soaked it in a brine of salted honey, rolled it smooth with almond hulls and ironed it with stones warmed over cedar bark flames. When I first felt the touch of that old jack ass, I thought, Dear Jesus what wonders come from your hand. Look how you've coverted that old beast. And then my throat caught in surprise as I was reminded of that old dry bone from which I impossibly hailed.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Evening Primrose (Proving My Mother Right)

When I first brought them from my mother's garden, they were limp, weedlike. She called them Evening Primrose. She said they would multiply, be lovely in the Spring. I was septical. I waited. Watched. By the end of March, their tall, spindly stalks grew hips. April wrapped the hips in pink skirts. Through the afternoons and into the moonlit evenings, the pink blossoms glow. Waiting at the base of each open blossom is another, still sleeping. It springs open the moment the current blossom wilts. The performance lasts for several weeks. Each fall I give many away. I repeat my mother's assuring speech as cynical eyes scrutinize those gaunt, bare stalks. To those who guard and weed them through the fall and winter, these early spring performers wait, once more to prove my mother right. (Excerpted from The Color of Grace:Thoughts from a Garden in a Dry Land)

Friday, April 26, 2013

April Musings from "The Color of Grace"

...I am an urn of Adam's skin, the thickness of a lifetime. When kicked I spill protesting blood. Each year, Spring takes a swing at bringing me around. Spring sings a resurrection song I strain to hear. A woodpecker drums its red head against a cedar pole Cumulus clouds rock in the promising wind. Gold sap pulsates in the boughs of the winter-charred oak. A robin chick sheds its itching egg. I press my ear to the earth: Dry bones, dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


Mining With a Feather Contemplative Writing And Spiritual Renewal Retreat – Facilitated by Tonia Colleen Martin And Jessica Campbell May 31-June 1, 2013

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Pearl

I woke up this morning with the image

of a pearl in my mind:

a tiny sphere brought into being by an irritating

grain of sand within the house of a muscle;

a space where competition between a foreign

and resident thought spar to arrive at something

beautiful and kind.

This is an image of instruction for me.

When I find myself in the realm of competition,

I want to lean kindly into that which irritates despite its 

essence of otherness.  I want to embrace this Other rather

than muscle it out by wit, criticism or ridicule

and wait for the pearl of new understanding

to roll sweetly into view.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Bringing Ireland to California